Tag Archives: Rav Shagar

Rav Shagar z”l, Purim, the Princess and the Plebian

In the fairy tale of the princess and the frog, how does the frog turn into a prince? In the modern versions the princess kisses the frog. But in the early modern versions, she throws the frog at the wall to smash him. During that era, only by doing the opposite can one achieve one’s goal.
In addition during that time period, they distinguished between the inner and outer self. Shakespeare’s character Polonius advised Laertes  about both of these aspects: “to thine own self be true,” and also to dress well: “For the apparel oft proclaims the man.”

During these three centuries, the Purim Torah was filled with sinning for the sake of heaven, fortunate falls, fortunate faults, this day is a tikkun for haman, the need to do the opposite of intellect and get drunk, things not appearing what they seem. Each in his own way, Maharal, Shelah, Ramhal, Yonathan Eybeschutz, and the Izbitzer had these approaches. (If it was still Purim time, then I would give lots of examples, maybe next year.)

But what I find interesting is that Rav Shagar Z”l advocates going back to this material in what he considers the post-modern condition, the needs of what he calls “the Jewish intellectual.” His Purim Shiurim were translated three years ago as a small book, ideal for giving as mishloach manot, which I did when I received a bunch when they came out. But his Torah does not catch on here.

In his book Change and Providence, he advocates drinking to oblivion, we need to get beyond intellect and cognition, all divisions are meaningless to the eye, all is an inner divine providence, there is a holy haman in our “”will to power” needed to create, we need to get beyond Torah as a burden or as neurosis, we rejoice through destroying the ordinary categories, Purim is beyond history and celebrates the loss of all categories, it is the holiday of the fragmentary nature of our lives.

Can one group go back and understand reality in a different way. Can one adopt the cosmology of a different era? In 1700 many people thought that way as their natural cosmology, does it have the same affect if it is artifice and constructed self?

Yet, the Tablet had an article that Purim may be the holiday for this generation. “Sanctioning a host of transgressive behaviors—from drunkenness to masquerading in costume—and commemorating a tale of Jewish valor that culminates in the slaughter of 75,000 Persians more than 2,000 years ago, Purim is increasingly providing Jews of all backgrounds and ages with an opportunity to engage with whatever concerns them personally and politically.”

Modernist Postscript:

Rav Soloveitchik as a staunch advocate of the intellect, generally used the midrash on Ahashveros as foolish to show how America and Jewish values are different. He generally stuck up for a Boston Brahmin position as the Jewish position. In my era, he used this moment to make fun of President Reagan as plebian, uneducated, a fool, and not someone the Torah thinks should be in leadership. He seems influenced by the rhetoric of Richard Hofstadter, which was also emphasized in the secular curriculum at Maimonides.

The Second Characteristic (Persia versus U.S.) In Persia there was an anti-aristocratic movement where the average citizen was the hero. He was the ordinary and mediocre man. (In America who is the all American boy? Is it the great student, the researcher, the scientist? No, the all American boy is the uncultured basketball or baseball player.) Then, the ordinary man was looked upon as the right man. Achashueros celebrated his rise to power in a common way. He himself was a usurper to the throne and he hated the cultured. He was sly, a Stalin, cunning, who wrangled his way to the top. Achashueros hated the nobility! Yet, why did he invite them separately to a party for no less than 180 days? He needed them because they controlled the army. The megilah terms it “Chale, Paras u’Madai” (the commanders of the forces). Those who control the army are the bosses. They were responsible for his security, and he needed them. But, Achashueros felt out of place in their company. Their fine manners irritated him because he was a plebeian. Then he invited his “crowd,” the citizens, the uncouth of Shushan Habirah. How do we know that he enjoyed the common? Because the megilah tells us that on the seventh day “the heart of the king was merry from wine.” During the 180 days before the cultured, he was not merry.

It would have been nicer for Queen Vashti to appear before the aristocracy, but instead, when did he summon her? Before the ordinary people! What does it mean that he told her to “appear before the people?” It means that in his intoxication he wanted to “shame and to humiliate her.” Vashti came from royalty-was the daughter of Balshazar, the granddaughter of Nebuchadnezer. He wanted to degrade her before the common people. Why did she refuse? She knew that he wanted to degrade her because otherwise, he would have come personally instead of sending servants as if she were a slave. It was as if sending a guard to degrade her. She returned a message, “My father drank wine in front of thousands and never got drunk. You got drunk on a little wine! You are a vulgar usurper! It was an exchange of derogatory messages, each wishing to destroy the other. Full Version Here.

44 years later, how would he look at our communities? What does the community value? Do they even have a concept of ordinary people (hamon am) anymore? Would he like the all-American values of Centrist orthodoxy?

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